It’s important to preface my review by explaining how little I know and care about soccer. I also don’t care what the back of the box says, and what it’s called elsewhere in the world. Here in the US it is soccer and it will remain as such so that I won’t have to write “American Football” in just a few games. Lucky for me the World Cup was recently in the news and so I had some justification for picking Germany rather than closing my eyes and picking randomly. I quickly did a web search to see if the teams contained real players and it didn’t appear so. This means even if you follow the sport and know a certain player, you’ll still be reduced to just picking your favorite country (other than America of course). Yay nationalism!
The game has a few different modes. The first two options allow for a quick game, or skirmish between the computer or another person. Why you would subject another person to this is beyond me, but there it is. The “You’re a Hero” and “All Star” also from my understanding are skirmishes, but with a twist. Obviously the Cup Championship is just the last match. For truly beating the game I needed multiple games, so this meant either doing a tournament or a league championship. Since the league championship was longer and resembled a “season” the most, this is what I settled on. There are thirteen teams other than your own, and you play each twice, making for 26 matches. On the bright side, the options tab allows for you to shorten each half to just a minute and make the AI a bit easier.
The game play is fairly simple though there are still pieces I didn’t truly figure out. During your possession of the ball B will pass and A will shoot. It took a bit to get the directions right not to launch it into the stands as a souvenir. On defense, B will steal if you are near the opponent and Y will perform a sliding steal. I loved this sliding steal, it was more satisfying than it probably should have been. That is, of course, unless I fouled the opponent near my end leading to an almost guaranteed goal.
Speaking of guaranteed goals, the opposing AI was a master at lobbing the ball up and head butting it in. It got to the point that as soon as the ball went up in the air I just braced for the annoying screech indicating they had scored. My goalie in his infinite wisdom felt the best defense was a good offense and would come out of the goal to greet the opponent as he did this. At some points I was able to jump and get to the ball before the AI, but more often than not the goalie would end up staring up at the ball in wide eyed glee as it went screaming past. Once I was done spinning the controller over my head like Petey Pablo in Raise Up, I would reset and start again.
The game will automatically save after each win/loss. I wasn’t entirely sure when the game went through the save process and after tinkering with it and taking a loss in game two I thought it best to reset a few seconds before the end of the second half. No flawless season for me though. With the short game time, you at the very least feel that you’re making process.
After a few matches I realized that you can change your setup in the beginning. Having no idea what this meant I just used trial and error and landed on the “4-4-3″ formation. I don’t know what that means, but it seemed to place people in a position that didn’t leave me too undefended or unable to score. This is also roughly the time I found the perfect shooting position. This is probably the single most important and useful thing I was able to find during my play through. If you can shoot from the bottom corner of the goal area, the goalie makes some questionable movements and is unable to block it. There is some timing related to this because as you approach the goalie will come out to meet you and if he is able to do that it will be blocked. However, if it requires the goalie to dive, he’ll miss completely. My route when I got the ball was pretty standard. I dodged down, then up to avoid the first two opposing players and then headed for the sweet spot. Done correct you can go from getting the ball to a goal in seven seconds.
Having this key spot and knowing how to abuse it made the games fly by. Matches were only two or four minutes depending if overtime was needed, and almost all the matches became wins. I simply continued to steal as best as I could from the opponent and didn’t fret their headbutt goals. They would score, but since I could get upwards of eight goals in a game it didn’t phase me. Goals became pretty easy to get and the game that started as torture became trivial. This doesn’t excuse however that the score board didn’t seem plausible.
As I mentioned, I lost my second game (to Belgium). As I began my win streak I realized that now Belgium was also going undefeated. This meant I was going to stay permanently in second place until I had another shot at playing them. It provides the constant feeling that any one single loss could cost you the whole thing, and that you need to be near perfect to win the league. I found it took away any excitement from watching the leader board. There was no hope that I would gain, or increase, a lead because of another match. In the end it just made the wins/losses look silly rather than making it look like a tough competition.
Overall the game is just poor. The graphics are rough and super pixelated, to the point that the characters in game have no discernible faces. Normally I wouldn’t bash the graphics because this is an older system, but this game was released in 1995 and was the last game Namco produced for the system. I would have hoped that human face definition would have been a bit better by then. The AI is decent competition even on the lowest setting making me discover a repetitive “auto-win” move to reliably have a chance. Once you do this, any potential fun is replaced by repetition. Replay value is practically zero since the teams are made of imaginary characters and the ending is just a sepia picture of a generic team. Generic is probably a good definition for the entire game, as there is nothing that stands out about the normal game play. Maybe the “You’re a Hero” mode gimmicks are worth it, but I doubt it. The handling is pretty good though, so mechanically there isn’t too much to complain about. If you absolutely love soccer it could be worse, but for the rest of us, we’ll pass.